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Coronavirus: new research has highlighted the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on BAME women in the UK

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Lauren Geall
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A black woman sat on her laptop

New research from the Fawcett Society has confirmed that the coronavirus crisis has had a greater financial and psychological impact on BAME women than white women.

The coronavirus crisis has had a bigger financial and psychological impact on BAME women than white women, a new report by the Fawcett Society has found.

The research, which was published today (8 June), shows a disparity between the experiences of white and BAME women across the board during the pandemic, whether that’s worries about debt and facing financial difficulties in the future or working longer hours since working from home. 

Although the term BAME is problematic and the Fawcett Society acknowledge its limitations, they state that the term has been used because the data the organisation holds for individual ethnic groups “would not be sufficiently large for the findings to be reliable” and would risk “drawing incorrect conclusions about different women’s experiences”. 

The Fawcett Society’s report follows the publication of the recent Public Health England review which revealed that those from BAME groups have a higher risk from dying with coronavirus than their white counterparts; the risk of death among people of Bangladeshi background is double that of white British people.

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Based on the experiences of 3,280 respondents from different ethnic backgrounds, this new report from the Fawcett Society gives an informed insight into the social, psychological and financial impacts of the crisis.

Financially, the report highlights a significant disparity between women from BAME and white backgrounds when it comes to struggling to make ends meet. Alongside the fact that 42.9% of BAME women said they believed they would be in more debt as a result of the crisis, compared to 37.1% of white women, the report also revealed that almost a quarter of BAME mothers are struggling to feed their children. In comparison, only 19% of white mothers had this experience.

A black woman looking out her window
BAME women are more likely to say they will face increased debt as a result of the coronavirus crisis compared to their white counterparts.

This disproportionate impact of coronavirus on BAME women is also seen when you consider the number of disabled or retired people who say they have recently lost support from the government. Among the report’s 3,280 respondents, over twice as many BAME women and men reported that they had recently lost support from the government (42.5% and 48.3%) than white women and men (12.7% and 20.6%). Over half of BAME women also said that they were “not sure where to turn for help” during the pandemic, compared to only 18.7% of white women.

Psychologically, BAME women have also been hardest hit; life satisfaction and happiness were lowest for this group, and half of BAME women reported high anxiety levels (white women reported a similar experience in this area). 

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The report also sheds some light on how the shift towards working from home has taken its toll on both men and women from a BAME background. There has been some discussion throughout the crisis about the fact that people from ethnic minority backgrounds – “particularly Indian, black African and black Caribbean people,” as the report points out – are over-represented in key worker jobs, specifically when it comes to front-line health and social care roles, but what that discussion hasn’t touched upon is the experience of BAME people working from home. 

Among the respondents who reported working from home, a much higher proportion of BAME people (41% of women and 38.9% of men) reported working more than before the pandemic compared to white people (29.2% of women and 28.5% of men). Of course, we cannot fully explain why this might have happened without an understanding of the roles held by these respondents. But when reports and experiences have shown that people of colour are more likely to struggle with imposter syndrome and feelings of self-doubt, it makes sense that people from the BAME community could be feeling the pressures of digital presenteeism much more than their white counterparts.

A woman on her laptop
Among people who had been working from home, a much higher proportion of BAME men and women said they were working longer hours, as compared to white men and women.

“Covid-19 has brought the harsh realities of pre-existing racial inequalities into sharp relief, and nowhere is this more manifest than the disproportionate social and economic impact of covid-19 on black and ethnic minority women,” said Zubaida Haque, Interim Director of the Runnymede Trust.

“This survey starkly illustrates the higher levels of health and economic burden among BME women, including the higher proportions of BME mothers reporting that they are struggling to feed their children, compared to their white counterparts. Unless the Chancellor takes more steps to strengthen the social security safety net during Covid-19, the racial inequality gap between BME and white groups will get even wider, leaving BME groups, and BME women in particular, even more vulnerable to the bleak and unequal consequences of Covid-19.”

As Zubaida Haque points out, if the report from the Fawcett Society tells us anything, it’s that systemic racism remains a massive problem in the UK. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inequalities which run rife in our society – and, as always, BAME women are facing the brunt of this broken system. 

Accessing support

If you’re struggling to cope with the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on you and/or your community, there are a number of resources available to provide support:

For additional support and resources, check out NHS Every Mind Matters or visit the Mind website. 

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